What to Do When You Find a Sick Kitten

Because of their young bodies and immune systems, kittens are prone to getting sick. Although both indoor and outdoor baby cats can develop infections and diseases, stray kittens are at higher risk of getting unwell. Because it can be devastating to see a tiny feline suffering, knowing what to do when you find a sick kitten is a must.

Keep the mother cat nourished for it to be able to take good care of its baby. If the mom isn’t around, take the sick kitten to the vet. At home, give the feline kitten milk replacer or solid food, depending on its age. Maintain the kitten’s safety and keep its body temperature normal at all times.

There are many health problems that kittens, including especially outdoor ones, can end up with, ranging from something as simple as the common cold to something as deadly as feline panleukopenia (feline distemper).

Whether mild or severe, nothing can be more heartbreaking to a cat lover than the sight of ailing kittens. This is especially true for homeless ones with no loving owners that could take them to the vet ASAP. Below, we will talk about nine things that you may do when you come across a sick kitten on the street or your property.

But First: Signs That a Kitten is Sick

Free-roaming kittens that are eight weeks of age and older have a very good chance of surviving on their own.

While it’s certainly a good idea to adopt these little felines or take them to the animal shelter for spaying or neutering, they can grow up to be healthy and happy stray cats even without any human intervention.

However, it’s a completely different matter for a kitten suffering from a certain illness or disease.

More than 90% of deaths in kittens happen during the first week of life when they have very frail bodies and exceptionally weak immune systems. But the good news is that around 75% to 90% of kittens make it to eight weeks of age. Still, the presence of health problems, especially serious ones, are total game-changers.

Here are some of the telltale signs that the kitten you encounter on the street or elsewhere is unwell:

  • Underweight
  • Constant crying
  • Extremely hot (over 103°F) or cold (below 99°F)
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Crusty or gunky eyes
  • Nasal discharge
  • Labored breathing

In most instances, it’s a must to take the sick kitten to a vet. The younger and sicker the baby cat looks, the quicker that it should be treated. Otherwise, the survival rate will plummet.

Because the sight of a little feline that is obviously not doing well can fill you with all sorts of emotions, ranging from sadness to devastation, it can be confusing at times to know the steps to take.

Read on to know what to do when you find a sick kitten — below, we will talk about nine of the best things to take in such a situation.

What to Do When You Find a Sick Stray Kitten

sick stray kitten
Image credit: Canva

Check for the Cat Mom’s Presence

According to vets themselves, one of the most common health concerns kittens are diagnosed with is an upper respiratory tract problem, such as the common cold.

It’s a good thing that most baby cats will bounce back from it in one to two weeks, provided that their mother is around to breastfeed them and keep them warm and cozy.

It’s for this reason why you should see to it that the sick kitten’s mom is around.

Just because the mommy cat is nowhere in sight doesn’t necessarily mean that it has abandoned its little one — it could be that it’s looking for something to eat or doing a number one or two not too far away from the nest.

Especially if the kitten doesn’t look like it’s very sick, its mom will be there until the day the kitten fully recovers.

Unfortunately, it’s not always that a mother cat is around to take good care of its youngster with a health issue. If the mom senses that the kitten is too sick to recover, it might leave it behind, taking with it the rest of the family to keep them from catching whatever it is that the sick kitten has.

There are also instances when the mother cat will choose to kill its young if it’s very sick.

Keep the Cat Mom Nourished

Consider the sick kitten lucky if its mother is constantly there to feed it regularly and keep it out of harm’s way.

Thanks to a mommy cat’s breast milk, which is highly nutritious, the sick kitten’s tiny body can be kept adequately nourished and its immune system strong enough to deal with any ongoing infection or ailment.

To help the kitten recover in no time, you may keep its caring mother well-nourished.

Unlike other female cats, a nursing feline needs to eat highly nutritious foods to promote recovery from the stress of giving birth to a litter of kittens.

It’s also crucial for the constant production of immune-boosting breast milk necessary for the kitten’s proper growth and development.

I make it a habit to offer a nursing stray cat canned tuna, salmon, sardines or chicken. Often, I mix it with kibbles to make sure that the mother cat will get a wide range of nutrients for its benefit and the benefit of its baby, too.

Refrain from giving the breastfeeding feline cow’s milk — it will not help increase breast milk production. Instead, it might cause a stomachache, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, all of which can keep the mommy cat from taking good care of its sick kitten properly.

Kitten milk replacer or clean water may be given instead.

Transfer the Kitten to a Safe Place

It’s not just an infection or a disease that can put the life of a kitten in peril. In some instances, it’s the location. And if the baby cat is battling a health problem, it’s a good idea to ensure that it’s safe and protected.

Direct sunlight, rain, snow, strong winds, extreme temperatures — the elements can cause the little kitty cat’s body to work harder.

In the process, it may fail to devote plenty of its resources to fighting infection- and disease-causing microbes or inflammation taking place inside it.

Because of this, recovery may become either delayed or difficult.

The environment has a direct and massive impact on the recovery rate of sick kittens.

When transferring an unwell little four-legged animal to a different place, see to it that it’s within the general area to make sure that its mom will be able to find its young trouble-free when it returns.

A few winters ago, I rescued a couple of eight-week-old abandoned kittens suffering from what looked like the cold. I placed them in a box in a warm and dry area in the garage and fed them high-quality wet cat food.

It took just a little over a week for the baby cats to fully recover, after which I took them to a shelter with a TNR program.

Pay a Veterinarian a Visit

Whether the sick kitten is too young to be separated from its mother or old enough to live on its own, you may take it to your trusted vet if it looks like it’s in really bad shape.

You may also have the kitten assessed by a vet even if the problem seems mild to keep it from worsening, thus considerably increasing the animal’s survival rate.

Refrain from taking the sick kitten to the nearest veterinary clinic by carrying it in your hand.

The best way to transport the ailing little cat is by placing it in a small animal carrier. You may also place the kitten in a large live rat trap if it’s small enough to fit in it.

By the way, to save money, I take any unhealthy kitten I find on the street to a veterinary school where the veterinary medicine students are more than willing to lend a hand for the experience of how to treat a sick kitten.

kitten at vet
Image credit: Canva

Fret not if there are no veterinary schools near you.

That’s because you may also bring the sick kitten to an animal shelter where a veterinarian may be around, although he or she is almost exclusively tasked with spaying and neutering feral or stray cats.

You may also search online for low-cost or free veterinary services in the area.

Provide Kitten Milk Replacer

If the sick kitten doesn’t have to be admitted to a veterinary clinic or hospital, according to the vet who just gave it an assessment, you may take good care of it at home.

When it comes to allowing the animal to bounce back in the comfort of your home, it’s of utmost importance to ensure that it’s getting all the nutrients it needs, which is necessary for its body to be able to deal with the health problem.

Kittens younger than three to four weeks of age should be fed with kitten milk replacer.

Never give the unwell baby cat cow’s milk. While highly nutritious, cow’s milk contains lactose.

The majority of cats, young and old alike, have lactose intolerance. Feeding a sick kitten cow’s milk can make things worse because it can upset its digestive system and cause it to vomit and diarrhea, which can easily lead to severe dehydration.

It’s not all the time that I can get my hands on kitten milk replacer. What I do if a sick kitten needs to be fed ASAP is I combine the following ingredients:

  • 32 ounces of goat’s milk
  • A teaspoon of light corn syrup
  • A tablespoon of lactose-free yogurt
  • An egg yolk.

I warm a small amount of the homemade kitten milk replacer in the microwave and store the rest in the refrigerator.

Regularly Administer Fluids

Besides keeping the sick kitten well-nourished, it’s also a must that you keep it properly hydrated.

It’s important for cats to stay hydrated, especially if they are battling a health-related problem. That’s because the immune system is highly dependent on the bloodstream, which is mostly made up of water.

To determine if a sick kitten is dehydrated, pinch the skin along its back. If it takes a while for the skin to go back to its normal position or does not return to its normal position, the tiny feline is dehydrated.

Here’s how to hydrate a sick kitten…

If the kitten refuses to drink from a water bowl, instill two to four ml (milliliters) or cc (cubic centimeters) of clean, room temperature water into the side of the kitten’s mouth. This should be performed every hour. Water may be mixed with a bit of oil from canned tuna or gravy from canned cat food.

When I instill water directly into the mouth of a kitten, I allow it to stand on its four legs with the feline facing away from me. Never provide water to a sick kitten while holding it in your arms, such as when you are feeding a baby, because it may cause water to get into its lungs.

Keep Appropriate Meals Small in Size

It’s completely normal for a sick kitten to have no appetite.

However, it doesn’t mean that it’s perfectly fine for it not to eat anything at all. Because its body is trying to fight off an infection or ailment, it’s a must that it is provided with an assortment of nutrients to help speed up the recovery process.

Offer the sick kitten a small amount of food at regular intervals. The stronger the smell of the food, the better. This is especially true if it has an upper respiratory tract infection and it can barely smell or taste anything.

It can be frustrating to see a baby cat refusing to eat what’s in front of it.

Don’t give up — try giving the pawed animal a different type of food each time until it finally shows interest in eating. It’s a good idea to warm the food in the microwave before offering it to the sick kitten as it will be able to smell and taste it better.

Regularly giving it kitten milk replacer using a syringe or medicine dropper may be done, too, if the sick kitten doesn’t want to eat at all to ensure that its body will stay nourished and hydrated, too.

Ensure Proper Body Temperature

The normal body temperature of kittens around four weeks of age range anywhere from 99°F to 101°F. Afterward, they begin to reach the normal body temperature range of adult cats (100.5°F to 102.5°F).

Before they become four weeks old, kittens are unable to regulate their body temperature.

When a baby cat is fighting an infection, its body temperature rises — a temperature of more than 102.5°F is considered a fever.

sick kitten
Image credit: Canva

Placing the kitten in a hot and humid area can cause its body temperature to increase further, leading to hyperthermia, which can cause organ failure and, if not dealt with immediately, even death.

On the other hand, a temperature of less than 99°F is considered as hypothermia. It’s just as bad as hyperthermia because it can cause the heart rate and breathing rate to drop considerably, causing the kitten to slip into a coma.

A sick kitten that’s panting could be overheating, and a sick kitten that’s lethargic could be very cold.

Maintain Your Safety at All Times

When moving the baby cat to a different area or placing it in a carrier or live trap, wrap it in a towel.

Even if it’s not looking and feeling well, the kitten may still scratch or bite you if it feels threatened. It may do the same when you touch it where there’s pain.

A kitten’s fangs and claws may be small alright, but being bitten and scratched by the little cat can still break your skin and may cause an infection.

A towel can protect you from unnecessary scratches and bites. Personally, I prefer using a pair of animal handling gloves that I was able to buy online, especially when attempting to capture stray cats and kittens for spaying or neutering purposes. Many vets and shelter workers alike can be seen donning animal handling gloves, too.

By the way, when trying to rescue a sick kitten, check that its mom won’t mind you inspecting, touching, or lifting its little one. Especially since the mommy cat knows that its young is not in excellent shape, it’s not unlikely for it to become overprotective of its baby.

Just Before You Take Care of a Sick Kitten

In some instances, a sick kitten could only be suffering from a mild health-related concern that requires no trip to the veterinary clinic. However, in other cases, the baby feline could be afflicted with a severe illness or disease that requires treatment that only a vet can provide.

Kittens have frail bodies and immature immune systems, which is why it’s not uncommon for them to get sick.

Outdoor baby cats are more prone to ending up ill because, unlike their indoor counterparts, they are more exposed to the elements and, more importantly, bacteria, viruses and parasites. Especially if their mothers have already abandoned them, which mommy cats tend to do if their babies are sick, they could use all the kindness they can get.

Above, we talked about what to do when you find a sick kitten — all nine of them. Keep them in mind, and you could save an innocent kitten from having to go through unnecessary pain and suffering.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of The Pet Rescue.

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